Opinion: What your university is doing to its instructors

memorial hall 2​Sam Ford​/THE REVIEW
​ “The desperation to keep the internal economy afloat is understandable. But at what risk?”​

The university has experienced some major financial losses, with President Dennis Assanis dropping the news of an estimated $50 million loss about a month ago. It is understandable that some financial compromises must be made to offset the loss, but now that fall course offerings are live, it appears that the university is limiting or cancelling many classes that were originally on the roster.

While students have less options to fill their degree audits, this is a mild annoyance they have the ability to side-step. The reality is that quite a few of our adjunct professors may face a massive reduction in employment.

University President Dennis Assanis and the rest of the administration have trickled information down to students and faculty alike. Assanis discussed reopening campus during the previous Faculty Senate meeting, saying it would happen as soon as “conditions improve.”

The desperation to keep the internal economy afloat is understandable. But at what risk? Will the administration call for us to return to campus — all 23,000 of us, with a huge number being out-of-state — to limited class offerings and a possible third of the faculty missing?

There are 1,327 full-time faculty members on staff. Of that number, 957 are on the tenure track and 370 are on the non-tenure track. This means that now, 27.9% of employed faculty are at risk of being or have already been furloughed. As of this opinion’s posting, over 1,100 university employees have been laid off, with 341 of those being non-student workers. A portion of that must have included adjuncts.

I do not understand how the university expects so many students to return at the anticipated tail end of a pandemic. I am also unsure on what this means for class sizes. Will class capacity be inflated to compensate for less professors? Is that safe, to have classrooms that are essentially enclosed boxes, with more people inside — masks or no masks?

There is also the looming threat of the incoming class of 2024. As seniors graduate into a quivering economy and dry career prospects, incoming freshmen will enter a campus with half-filled holes in the earth and a ghost town abandoned months prior. Their arrival will certainly not help with social distancing prospects on a campus that has faced overcrowding issues for many semesters now.

The virus threw everything and everyone off their balance. But does righting ourselves mean considering a furlough of a third of the staff? Was this the best way to cut costs and keep the university functioning, or was it just the easiest way?

Of my classes this semester, only one is taught by an associate professor (associates are typically on the tenure track). Next semester, those other adjunct faculty I had the pleasure of learning from may disappear like an expendable little blip in the system.

I said goodbye to one of my favorite professors of the semester the evening of our last class. Since the posting of The Review’s article on the unknown future of our adjuncts, I thought about my professors who could have been affected but asking felt like crossing a line.

My professor let us know that this coming fall will be the first semester in 14 years in which he will not teach. He then proceeded to quash the thought that it was because he was retiring and noted that rather, it was a decision made by the university itself.

Now, I am unsure how difficult it was for the university’s administration to make this decision. I definitely understand cutting costs, and I certainly appreciate the efforts to compensate via the higher-ups’ cut salaries. Forgoing 10% of one’s income, which for Assanis is a possible slash of nearly $90,000, is certainly noted and obliged.

I will move past the fact that the proffered number is about two years of tuition for one singular out-of-state student .

Regardless, I still worry for the third of our faculty that is at risk of dissipation in this coming semester. When untenured, chasing an academic career can be a struggle in itself due to the job insecurity, and now those untenured will suffer directly from that insecurity. In The Review’s article last week, where a history adjunct was interviewed on his personal response to the reality of his situation, he offered the information that his anticipated income would be reduced by 60%.

I am not one for speculation, but I do believe a 60% cut on the typical annual salary for a full-time faculty member would not be livable. Further, some professors who may not return that offer the three hour, once a week classes that some students depend on due to their work schedules, could face a 100% cut in their salaries from the university because they may not work at all.

I ask the administration, tenured faculty and students alike to consider the implications of these decisions. This is not about limited class offerings. This is about our adjuncts, hired on contract and often part-time, who already receive no benefits from the university to begin with.

Alexis Carel is the managing news editor of The Review. She is a senior with majors in sociology, criminal justice and psychology. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s editorial staff. She may be reached at carel@udel.edu.

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